Super Automatic

The Steam Wand Is the Best Thing About Breville’s New Cafe-Quality Espresso Machine


Home By Photo by Chase Pellerin

F
or Australian home appliance company Breville, introducing revolutionary new products and groundbreaking technologies is common practice. It’s credited with inventing the sandwich press and the juice extractor, while the Breville 800 Class espresso machine, introduced in 2003, helped bring espresso making into the home kitchen. By 2005, espresso machines were outselling drip coffee machines and percolators in Australia.

Despite the popularity of single-serve brewers and super automatic espresso machines, the espresso they yield doesn’t hold a candle to a manually pulled shot. “They make a not-super-delicious coffee because they can’t get all the variables in the right place,” says Kyle Ramage, winner of the 2017 U.S. Barista Cup Championship. “You can control the grind somewhat, and you can control the water temperature somewhat, but [they’re limited].” With its Oracle series, Breville has been pushing the limits of what a super automatic espresso machine can be.

The latest addition to its line, the Oracle Touch, yields drinks that are uncannily close to barista-brewed espresso. The body of the machine is nearly identical Breville’s earlier dual boiler models, but features a full-color touchscreen interface in lieu of backlit LCDs and buttons. Settings for five common espresso drinks — pure espresso, Americano, latte, flat white and cappuccino — come standard, and the machine can save up to eight custom drink formulas.

Grind size, water temperature, shot size, milk temperature and froth level can all be dialed in to meet according to personal preferences and specific coffee bean. Precision tinkering aside, the Oracle Touch is built with an Over Pressure Valve — a functionality previously restricted to commercial machines — that controls shot pressure to prevent bitterness, and enables a low-pressure infusion of water to produce an even extraction with thick, caramel-hued crema.

Milk, in the past, has been the hardest thing to get right at home.

But it’s the steam wand, according to Andrew Oberholzer, roaster and cafe manager at Joe Coffee in New York, that puts the Oracle Touch in a category of its own. “You can get it right every time without having any experience,” he says. “You just put the milk in, center the wand and it does its thing. It textures with microfoam, so you can pour a latte.” Microfoam mixes with espresso to produce the velvety mouthfeel that signifies a quality espresso drink. By contrast, most super automatic espresso machines froth milk in such a way that it just sits atop a cup of espresso.

“Milk, in the past, has been the hardest thing to get right at home — a lot of milk frothers make this really blown-out, bubbly milk,” Oberholzer says. “With this, you’re actually getting microfoam that’s possible to pour latte art with, if you know what you’re doing. I don’t know too many other home machines where you could actually steam that kind of quality of milk without even having to do anything.” The steam wand on the Oracle Touch reads the temperature of the milk being used and, according to the specific type of drink being made, calibrates steam pressure and temperature accordingly.

While manual milk-steaming requires finely honed technique, Oberholzer says that the automated Breville wand falls into the “set it and forget it” camp. In other words, the things that baristas spend hours, weeks and months perfecting can now be emulated with impressive accuracy by home consumers. It’s not perfect, though. It can’t teach a proper milk pour, and the automated cappuccino foam is bubblier than what Oberholzer says he would serve, citing the milk produced for a flat white as being the best of the bunch.

“Another draw to this [machine] is that it’s good if you want to nerd out about coffee, but you can also make really good coffee if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he says. “And if you want to get really nerdy, you can go in and program your specific drink.” Oberholzer noted that while more delicate coffees necessitate a lower temperature, he prefers to use the highest temperature setting — 205 degrees Fahrenheit — on the Oracle Touch. “With a milk-based espresso or traditional ristretto shot, I’ve found that the highest temperature here tastes best.” His dialed-in shot called for 18 grams of coffee extracted for 30 seconds to yield a 42-gram cup.

“It’s very granular. You can get as deep as you want as far as dialing in a shot,” Oberholzer explains. “You have all of the variables that we [professional baristas] have to adjust. So, if you want to play with it, you can. Or, if you want to just take caffeine to your head, you can do that, too.”

It’s not just espresso machines that Breville is revolutionizing with professional-grade quality. The new drip coffee Precision Brewer can brew a single cup of coffee, or as much as 60 ounces. It’s compatible with flat-bottom and cone-style filters, and can be fitted with any pour-over dripper, whether a Kalita Wave or Hario V6. Modularity aside, the machine automatically adjusts water temperature and brew time to meet rigorous Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standards, and comes with pre-sets for everything from cold brew to iced coffee, stronger cups and custom brew processes.

“We’ve come very, very close to mimicking a Chemex or a hand-brewed coffee with this, which is the first time I’ve ever been able to do that with a drip machine,” Oberholzer says. “Other drippers brew fine coffee — don’t get me wrong. But a lot of times, with a cup of drip coffee you’re getting a lot of muddled flavors. But it’s pretty amazing to me the clarity in the cup that you can get from this.”

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